By Wezi Tjaronda WINDHOEK Namibia’s Karakul industry has been declared a strategic industry. The move is aimed at bringing economic activities and development to arid grazing areas and also to attract international support, which is needed to upgrade the Gellap-Ost research and training centre. Noting that other Karakul producing countries, such as Afghanistan, India, Uzbekistan and Romania have expressed a desire to learn about the karakul farming systems and breeding programmes in Namibia, the Cabinet, at its meeting on April 11, approved a proposal by the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry and its stakeholders in the industry to negotiate and agree on cooperation in respect of facilities and equipment at the training centre. The government is thus encouraging donors and other cooperating partners to support the upgrading of the facilities at Gellap-Ost for training and research purposes. The centre has facilities, equipment, livestock and staff, who are linked to the station. The cabinet also directed the ministry to make a budgetary allocation from its 2006/7 financial year to hire the services needed for drafting arrangements, statues, registration of the business entity and other related costs for the development of the special programmes. A media statement from Cabinet Chambers said yesterday although the station belongs to the ministry, all stakeholders in the industry have shown their interest in getting involved in upgrading the facilities to cater for local needs and also to offer technical support to the other Karakul producing countries. “Due to the fact that the capacity of the Ministry of Agriculture, Water and Forestry to manage and maintain its huge agricultural station to manage and maintain the huge agricultural research facilities has declined drastically and because farmers and breeders fear that the facilities, genetic material and human resources at Gellap-Ost cannot be guaranteed by the ministry, the time has come for the ministry and the Karakul industry to share resources and to cooperate for greater management, efficiency and effective response to the need of the farmers,” the statement said. The sector celebrates 100 years next year amid concerns of a declining industry. After the industry reached an all-time high in 1971 with the production of 3.4 million pelts, the industry now produces around 130 000 pelts, albeit of superior quality and with favourable prices over the past five auctions. As an indication of the high standard of sorting of Swakara in the country, Namibia is now part of the Copenhagen Fur quality labelling system, the Purple Club, which comprises the top most grade. In addition to this achievement, for the first time ever, 72 Swakara Black D selected super pelts sold for N$643 per pelt, the highest price ever achieved at the auction in Copenhagen, early this month. Due to increases in the price of mutton and a collapse of fur prices, the Karakul stock decreased drastically, seeing an export of 56 667 pelts in 1997. The statement further said that although the industry is not of significance in numbers on the international market, the local product is highly regarded because of its uniqueness and quality, which resulted in the establishment of a special breeding programme at the Neudamm Research Station in the 1920s.